London - No one talks about the second losses. After a loved one dies, people tell you life will never be the same but you’ll somehow learn to live with it, and eventually you’ll remember not how she died but how she lived, and so on and so on.
But no one talks about the tiny splinters of hurt, inflicting smaller but significant emotional wounds, that run concurrently with grief and are its collateral damage.
Death and loss makes people feel uncomfortable and act awkwardly, especially if they haven’t yet experienced it.
Such omissions are expected from acquaintances, but not from close friends. Yet, when my mother died four years ago, after succumbing to a cruel blood disease, one of my best mates simply checked out of our friendship at the darkest time in my life.
We’d been friends since we were 21, meeting at university. We’d spend every minute outside of lectures in each other’s company, finish each other’s sentences and dance for hours in nightclubs, oblivious to anyone else.
Then my mother died at the end of July 2015. My friend was abroad on holiday and phoned immediately, apologising for not being able to come to the funeral in Manchester.
While my other friends worked tirelessly to knit a shroud of comfort for me when I was so desperately sad, arranging play dates with my children, dropping in hot dinners, calling numerous times a day or just sending texts saying, "You OK?", she didn’t get in touch.
No WhatsApp messages, no phone calls, nothing.
At the same time, my ten-year marriage was fraying at the seams. My husband hadn’t yet moved out - we had two young children to think of - but life, as I knew it, had entirely changed.
My mother’s death had brought me to a fork in the road; there was life before and life after, and the new landscape was shaky and unfamiliar - as was I.
I found myself thinking of the energy it took to write a text message. It was a mere dance of the thumb, taking no more than a few seconds, yet its impact could be huge. To the recipient it said: ‘You are in my thoughts; you are loved and cared for.’
Yet she couldn’t even bring herself to do that. Given the depth of our friendship, it was shocking and inexcusable.
Then I ran into her on the street while shopping one morning towards the end of the summer, four weeks after my mother’s death. She faltered when she saw me, embarrassment reddening her cheeks, before she forced an awkward smile and asked how I was. I felt fury ball in my chest, but tried not to let it seep out, asking about her holiday before making an excuse to leave.
If she couldn’t show up during my grief and the break-up of my marriage, what good was she?
I made the decision to ‘de-friend’ her that day, giving myself permission not to care if she texted or phoned or wanted to meet. It was a relief to know that the new landscape after my mother’s death no longer had to include her.
Four years on, we meet every couple of months, together with mutual friends, and I genuinely enjoy seeing her and hearing her news. I don’t allocate blame or feel residual anger, and I know she didn’t intend to hurt me.
But loss is a game-changer, and it sadly altered the landscape of my life - and our friendship - for ever.